JDAI Practices Ease Flow of Committed Youth to State Corrections and Sustain Lower Populations

Posted December 13, 2012
Jdai practices

Texas and Louisiana have recent­ly seen sub­stan­tial reduc­tions in their youth cor­rec­tions pop­u­la­tions due to sys­temic realign­ment, down­siz­ing, and shut­ter­ing juve­nile insti­tu­tions. Noto­ri­ous juve­nile insti­tu­tions were forced to close as state and fed­er­al lit­i­ga­tion exposed abu­sive and dan­ger­ous con­di­tions of con­fine­ment. The Texas leg­is­la­ture passed sweep­ing reform leg­is­la­tion ban­ning youth with low-lev­el offens­es from state cus­tody and trans­fer­ring respon­si­bil­i­ty for them to coun­ty juve­nile jus­tice agencies.

These changes raised con­cern that local deten­tion cen­ters would end up hous­ing those adju­di­cat­ed youth who could no longer be shipped off to state cus­tody. It now appears that those fears were unfound­ed. As admis­sions to state youth cor­rec­tions declined, local offi­cials were con­cur­rent­ly imple­ment­ing JDAI strate­gies to reduce the flow of youth into deten­tion and iden­ti­fy home- and com­mu­ni­ty-based options for low-lev­el youth and misdemeanants.

The data sug­gest that JDAI prac­ti­tion­ers were not only able to reduce their deten­tion pop­u­la­tions, but also keep low-lev­el youth out of secure care. In doing so they less­ened the bur­den on state youth cor­rec­tions and helped sus­tain the big reduc­tions in the insti­tu­tion­al­ized populations.


In Texas the shift of non­vi­o­lent offend­ers from state to coun­ty con­trol was swift and mon­u­men­tal. The state’s insti­tu­tions housed 5,650 youth in 2000. But when its youth cor­rec­tions sys­tem faced an ugly sex abuse scan­dal, Texas reversed course. Sweep­ing reform leg­is­la­tion passed in 2007 pro­hib­it­ed com­mit­ments of mis­de­meanants to its juve­nile insti­tu­tions. The state’s com­mit­ted pop­u­la­tion sub­se­quent­ly dropped by 67 per­cent, going from 4,800 youth in 2006 to 1,800 by 2010, as the respon­si­bil­i­ty for low-lev­el offend­ers shift­ed to local jurisdictions.

The change con­cerned some local offi­cials, who feared they were not equipped to serve large num­bers of youth pre­vi­ous­ly com­mit­ted to state cus­tody. Not only was local bed capac­i­ty an issue: The offi­cials wor­ried that even non­vi­o­lent chron­ic offend­ers would prove unman­age­able giv­en lim­it­ed local pro­gram options. Har­ris (Hous­ton) and Dal­las (Dal­las) coun­ties, both JDAI sites, typ­i­cal­ly sent large num­bers of youth to the Texas Youth Commission. 

It was com­mon prac­tice in Texas, when all local resources had been exhaust­ed, to com­mit the habit­u­al mis­de­meanor offend­er to the state,” Har­ris Coun­ty Chief Juve­nile Pro­ba­tion Offi­cer Tom Brooks said.

But the changes in state pol­i­cy pro­vid­ed an oppor­tu­ni­ty for Har­ris and Dal­las coun­ties to change the way they treat misdemeanants.
By 2010, Har­ris Coun­ty had com­mit­ted 70 per­cent few­er youth to the Texas Youth Com­mis­sion than in 2006. When the Texas reform law passed, the Har­ris Coun­ty deten­tion cen­ter was over­crowd­ed. But in 2010 the aver­age dai­ly pop­u­la­tion had dropped by 22 per­cent com­pared to 2006.

The JDAI site in Dal­las Coun­ty also defied expec­ta­tions, reduc­ing its deten­tion pop­u­la­tion by 34 per­cent between 2007 and 2009.
New­ly designed deten­tion risk screen­ing instru­ments, used by both Texas sites to eval­u­ate youth and deter­mine the need for secure, locked con­fine­ment were fun­da­men­tal to keep­ing low-lev­el youth out of coun­ty deten­tion facil­i­ties. Both sites also cre­at­ed alter­na­tives to deten­tion, using state appro­pri­at­ed dol­lars to help local juris­dic­tions iden­ti­fy place­ments for the hun­dreds of youth removed from state institutions.

Har­ris Coun­ty hired a deten­tion expe­d­i­tor, closed a 45-bed facil­i­ty, divert­ed low-risk youth to shel­ter care, opened an evening report­ing cen­ter, decreased its num­ber of out­stand­ing writs and war­rants, and devel­oped a struc­tured deci­sion-mak­ing grid for youth who have vio­lat­ed pro­ba­tion. Har­ris Coun­ty has 4,000 few­er for­mal cas­es requir­ing court appear­ances since it opened a deferred pros­e­cu­tion pro­gram, divert­ing youth who com­mit non­vi­o­lent mis­de­meanor offens­es to 90- or 180-day com­mu­ni­ty super­vi­sion. The dis­trict attor­ney no longer files peti­tions on mis­de­meanor B offens­es. This pro­gram dra­mat­i­cal­ly reduced the delin­quen­cy dock­ets in Har­ris Coun­ty juve­nile court. A spe­cial court dock­et is intend­ed to keep juve­niles with men­tal ill­ness in their home by link­ing youth and their fam­i­lies to com­mu­ni­ty ser­vices and treat­ment. Since its incep­tion in 2009, 87 per­cent of all youth have suc­cess­ful­ly com­plet­ed the program.

It quick­ly became appar­ent that a lot of these kids didn’t need to be in the sys­tem, and if we pro­vid­ed a lit­tle sup­port, more often than not they out­grew their need for assis­tance,” Brooks said. By reduc­ing the num­ber of youth in the sys­tem, con­cen­trat­ed efforts can be made to meet the needs of youth under for­mal supervision.”


Fed­er­al lit­i­ga­tion and local advo­ca­cy over deplorable con­di­tions in Louisiana’s youth pris­ons set the stage for 2003 leg­isla­tive reforms that closed the infa­mous Tal­lu­lah facil­i­ty, reduced the state’s com­mit­ted pop­u­la­tion, and cre­at­ed an inde­pen­dent juve­nile jus­tice agency. Louisiana reduced the num­ber of youth in secure cus­tody by 60 per­cent between 1997 and 2007, low­er­ing its aver­age dai­ly pop­u­la­tion of incar­cer­at­ed youth from 2,190 to 849. Today there are approx­i­mate­ly 500 youth in state facil­i­ties across Louisiana.

JDAI was invit­ed into Louisiana in 2006 when stake­hold­ers, includ­ing the sher­iffs’ asso­ci­a­tion and the dis­trict attor­neys’ asso­ci­a­tion, real­ized that in order to restruc­ture the state’s juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem and to main­tain gains already made at the back end, it was going to be impor­tant to expand the scope of reform to include the local lev­el. The five largest parish­es in Louisiana are home to the state’s five largest deten­tion cen­ters and are all JDAI sites.

These five juris­dic­tions con­tin­ue to achieve the great­est decrease in com­mit­ments to state care,” said Dane Bolin, direc­tor of juve­nile jus­tice ser­vices in Cal­casieu Parish. Cal­casieu Parish, for exam­ple, com­mit­ted 108 kids to state cus­tody in 1998, but only 13 in 2010, a reduc­tion of 87 per­cent. More­over, between 2003 and 2010, the pop­u­la­tion of the Cal­casieu deten­tion cen­ter fell from 31 to 17 and admis­sions declined by half.

The Louisiana JDAI sites real­lo­cat­ed fund­ing from secure deten­tion to com­mu­ni­ty-based alter­na­tives and imple­ment­ed risk assess­ment instru­ments. Cad­do Parish reduced the num­ber of youth placed in deten­tion for mis­de­meanor offens­es by expand­ing and fund­ing a local tru­an­cy pro­gram to accept mis­de­meanants as well as truants.

With­out a doubt the local reform mea­sures have tak­en the bur­den off of the state. Not only have our state com­mit­ments dropped but our deten­tion pop­u­la­tion has decreased and we are now using the mon­ey that used to go to deten­tion for com­mu­ni­ty-based pro­grams,” Bolin said.
We rec­og­nize that the more times a kid is detained the high­er the chance that he will be com­mit­ted to a state facil­i­ty. We work hard to keep deten­tion reserved for youth who are deter­mined to be a risk to pub­lic safe­ty. It’s clear that by low­er­ing our deten­tion pop­u­la­tion we are also reduc­ing the num­ber of kids that we com­mit to the state.”


Due to JDAI core strate­gies, includ­ing risk assess­ment, expe­dit­ed case pro­cess­ing, col­lab­o­ra­tion, and com­mu­ni­ty-based alter­na­tives, these local deten­tion pop­u­la­tions are con­sid­er­ably low­er than they were despite their states’ dein­sti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion efforts. In addi­tion, these states’ com­mit­ted pop­u­la­tions have remained low, as local­i­ties have reduced the num­ber of youth they are committing. 

The gains may indi­cate a move toward more delib­er­ate deci­sion-mak­ing about the use of deten­tion, and sen­si­tiv­i­ty to the neg­a­tive effects of over-reliance on deten­tion and the impact that indi­vid­ual deten­tion deci­sions have on out­comes for the whole juve­nile jus­tice system.
Reform efforts, at both the state and the local lev­els, remain a work in progress,” said Bart Lubow, direc­tor of the Juve­nile Jus­tice Strat­e­gy Group at the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion. How­ev­er it appears that the JDAI approach com­ple­ments deep-end realign­ment by guard­ing against inap­pro­pri­ate secure placements.”

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